archery releases hinge release target panic

How does an Archery Back Tension Release Work?

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. If you make a purchase through links from this website, we may get a small share of the sale from Amazon and/or other similar affiliate programs. You can read our complete legal information for more details.

Hinge releases, also known as back tension releases, are a pretty modern addition to archery.  They weren’t in the mainstream when I started and so I had to do some research to find out just how they work.

The head of a back tension release is on a hinge and pin that hooks to the string loop of a compound bow.  As the release is rotated the hinge moves along a cam until the head releases and the shot breaks.  Properly executed the shot will be a surprise which prevents any shot anticipation.

So what does that mean for you? Why would you want one? Let’s dive in and learn more about the back tension release.

You can also head on over and check out my Recommended Releases

Back Tension (or Hinge) Releases and How They Work

This type of handheld release is called a hinge release and is also known as a back tension release.  I’ll explain more about the names later, for now lets talk about how it works.

These are handheld releases that have really increased in popularity over the past decade.  They were once preferred as a training device, but now many top competition archers shoot them and some people even bowhunt with them.

The hinge part of the release on the head rotates freely on a pin referred to as the gate.  There’s a half moon shaped cam that pivots on a second pin and controls the sensitivity of the release.

As the archer begins to rotate the release, the gate moves around the half moon until it reaches the edge and the shot breaks.

This might sound confusing, but in actuality it’s pretty easy once you’ve practiced a few times.  Check out this video from Archery 360.

What’s With The Names – Is it a Hinge or Back Tension Release?

A hinge release gets its name from the head of the release which operates on a hinge and pin called a gate.  This hinge mechanism is what moves as you rotate the release to execute the shot. It’s a key component in how the device works.

But so why then do so many people call this a back tension release? 

When using this type of release it requires engaging the large upper muscles of your back called the trapezius muscles or “traps” for short.

Keeping tension in these back muscles and using a pulling motion while relaxing the hand will cause the release to rotate and the shot to break.

Why You Need a Back Tension Release

There are a few really good reasons to use a back tension release.  For me personally, the most compelling reason is to cure my target panic.

Target Panic happens when you have anxiety surrounding shot execution, you start to anticipate the shot and punch the trigger of a release (thumb or index).

I used to have serious target panic, and I’ve gotten it somewhat under control but I think a hinge release will help cure me completely. Check out my article on why a hinge release is the best choice to cure target panic.

Don't Panic

I blame it partially on my PSE Brute Force that I shot during the late 90’s. It was a great bow, fast and fun to shoot but it vibrated like crazy and was pretty loud too.  I think that contributed to my anxiety of the shot and if it didn’t cause it, it certainly worsened my target panic.  As soon as my pin was where I wanted it, I would punch the trigger.

But, even if you don’t have target panic or fear of developing it, a back tension release can really help you tighten your groups and perform perfect shot execution.

Some of these bow releases have a point during the rotation where they click just before releasing.  Some people might find this useful, but in my opinion it will cause anticipation of the shot which is exactly the point of using a hinge in the first place.

Here are the biggest reasons to try a back tension bow release:

  • Teaches you to hold steadier by engaging your back muscles and holding the pin on your target.
  • There’s no trigger to punch and cause inconsistent execution of the shot.
  • Improves your mechanics and timing, even if you change back to a thumb or trigger release.
  • It can cure and/or prevent target panic

Getting Started With a Back Tension Release

A back tension release is a great tool to improve your shooting.  Keep in mind that as with any new release, you shouldn’t just hook onto your bow and start firing.

First you’ll want to get the release adjusted properly.  Most hinge releases have a wide range of sensitivity from hot to cold (easy to hard).  Especially if you’ve never shot a back tension style release before you’ll want to start of at a pretty cold setting, so that it takes more effort to break the shot.

Another really good way to start learning to use a hinge release is to setup a string bow.  A string bow can be used for a number of archery exercises but it’s a great way to learn to use a hinge release.

3 arrows in archery target

If you’ve seen videos or heard the stories about people punching themselves in the face and getting bloody lips, the string bow will help prevent this.  Also setting the sensitivity will be much easier using this method.

The biggest mistake you can make is hooking onto your bow right away after getting a new release and trying to use it without setting it up and practicing first.

You can make a very simple string bow with minimal supplies.  A length of rope with a d-loop tied on is all you need. Hold the rope out in your bow hand and clip your release onto the d-loop.

If nothing else, this will help you adjust the sensitivity to an acceptable point for you and get you familiar with how the release works. You can check out some of my recommended releases here.

But I’m a Bowhunter, Should I Use a Hinge?

Absolutely!  I’m not saying you have to hunt with it, although you can and many people do.  But, you should at least practice with a back tension release. It’s a great training aid to improve your execution.

Putting in the practice time with a hinge release will give you the confidence you need to make the perfect shot when it matters most.

You certainly can bowhunt with a back tension release, I’ve come across a number of people that do so.  It requires a little more patience on the shot. Some hunters argue that you can’t force a shot as an animal takes off, but should you really take that shot anyway?

What’s the Cost?

When you start shopping around for a back tension release you’ll realize that they tend to be a bit pricier than their more common cousins, wrists releases and thumb releases.

You’ll find that most hinge (or back tension) release start around $100 dollars.  Tru-fire, Scott Archery, and Tru-Ball are just a few of the quality release you can expect to find.  They all make some great lower end hinge releases and the prices go up from there. In fact I wrote a whole article about releases under $100.

Jason Brooks

I've been involved with archery for over 25 years off and on and am always interested in learning as much as I can. I've taken part in local tournaments and even 3D course setup.